The Center Holds | Harper's Magazine

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The Center Holds


Glenn Greenwald and I recently agreed in an Air America interview that all signs pointed to the House of Representatives folding and giving President Bush most of what he wanted in a new FISA continuation bill, including the hot-button issue, telecom immunity.

Well, I am elated to say that I was wrong and so was Glenn. When I worked my way through the House bill, I found it was a highly respectable product. It holds firm on key elements of the prior surveillance architecture, and, on the issue of telecom immunity, it follows Nancy Reagan’s advice by “just saying no.” The Judiciary Committee did yeoman’s work on this, issuing a report that flyspecked the major issues and staked out very sensible positions across the board. I kept thinking about doing a post to laud them for their work, but then I thought—somehow these pols always manage to embarrass us in the final minute, so best to wait and see how this turns out. Well, this time I was too cynical.

Now the votes are in, and the House has mustered a respectable majority: 213-197.

This is a gratifying vote, and looking over the list I see a number of members who seemed ready to cave to the fearmongers who have come to the right conclusions in the end. Beyond this, I watched the debate on the floor and was more than pleased. The arguments presented showed a move away from the politics of fear and towards a sensible balancing of civil liberties and national security concerns.

This was a good day for the Constitution, and a very bad day for President Bush. We need more like it.

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